Out of the game — Vaitsekhovskaya on coaching figures and national interests


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Out of the game — Elena Vaitsekhovskaya on coaching figures and national interests


this Saturday, ladies will skate their free programs at the European Championships in Moscow, and five-time European champion Carolina Kostner is third after the short program. Elena Vatsekhovskaya explains why she credits coach Alexei Mishin with Koster's success and tries to answer the question why coaching is almost always a thankless job.

Alexei Mishin, of course, should have been in the kiss'n'cry when Kostner sensationally took the small bronze medal in the short program. It seemed a glaring injustice that he wasn't: it was Mishin who very literally brought the Italian from nowhere to triumph. But nevertheless Mishin wasn't there, and other people cheered for Caro's success in the kiss'n'cry instead.

Last summer, I visited briefly Mishin's camp in Courchevel. It was his third summer camp in French Alps, and Carolina Kostner was the first one I saw on the ice when I came to the practice. The Italian skater often turned to the Russian coach for help, and she didn't make a secret from the fact that he was in many ways a key to her successful 2012 season when she won both European and World championships, but their previous collaboration was mainly consultative — it wasn't permanent. When I asked Mishin in Courchevel if Kostner's present on the ice was just a coincidence, he said: «No, it is not a coincidence. Carolina has been often visiting me lately. She was at my summer camp in Tartu, then in Saint Petersburg. Now she came here, and I can say she is the most disciplined, the most intelligent, the most motivated, and the most obedient student.

EV: It doesn't upset you that your most disciplined, most intelligent, and most obedient student is a foreigner?

AM: When you work with high-level athletes, you don't think about his nationality. It is important to have a figure like Evgeny Plushenko, Alexei Yagudin, and now Carolina Kostner. She sets an example for everybody, I see it every day that everyone is watching closely her training regimen, her warm-up routine. Plus, globally speaking, Russian sport right now is in a strange position. It is discriminated everywhere. I think right now it is very important to stay in touch with colleagues from other countries, to keep normal professional relationships. Carolina told me, for example, that Italian coaches worked with Russian biathlon team, and there examples in other storts too. I think it is beneficial for Russian sport.
Mishin took up Kostner when she was essentially abandoned by her own federation after being banned from competitions for 16 months for covering up her boyfriend Alex Schwazer's drug usage).
AM: In one year and a half, when Carolina couldn't skate, her financial situation collapsed. As it happens not only in our country, she had to face all the sanctions at once. She lost her sponsor's support, endorsements. Fortunately, Carolina had a second profession — she worked as prison supervisor. She told me once, tat if she wasn't a police officer, it could be even worse for her, because doping offenders in Italy are punished by imprisonment. At the same time, Carolina continued skating. If her shift started at 7 a.m., she came to the rink at 6 so that no one would see her. She's now only starting to get some meager suprt from her federation. I know they paid for her costumes. Last year, she paid for her costumes herself. And when she comes to my camps, she pays herself. I know that now her financial situation continues to be difficult. She cannot pay for my lessons even if she wanted to.

EV: Did she tell you that or is it your guess?

AM: One can always tell. Last year, she asked to come to my camp in Tartu, at least for several days. I told the camp's manager not to charge her. Then carolina's manager came to Saint Petersburg and asked me if she could come to me for at least sevral lessons. I said yes. That's how Caro ended up at our rink.

AM: Look at her now, her Lutz is the best [in Courchevel]. I'm afraid to say it aloud for the fear to jinx it, and of course carolina right now does not have a consistency of the leaders of ladies skating, but objectively, Kostner's Lutz or flip are one of the best. It's bigger,more impressive, better. What's her biggest achievement? She completely revamped her technique, she worked fanatically on it. I showed her my exercises, gave her a vest with a whistle. In the end of every practice, she works for fifteen minutes in it — whistles. There are sensors that make a sound, if you can hear whistling, you do everything right, if not, you are doing it wrong.
Besides, I have an obligatory written analysis of every practice: how many jumps you did and how many you missed. The point is, if you look at the list immediately after the practice, he understand the efficiency. Carolina sends me text messages even when she's training at home or in Canada with her choreographer Lori Nichol. And she calculates the percentage. Her efficiency is very high.
Working with Alexei Urmanov, Mishin said: "A coach always has to see the end goal. In the sports, there is only one goal — to win. So I always think, that first of all, my program has to be technically perfect so the athlete can win with it. Secondly, it has to be comfortable so that the athlete can skate it so that he can win. Thirdly, the program has to be liked by judges so that they will give the maximum score and the athlete, again, can win."
About Kostner, Mishin said: "Her free program is set to Debussy's L'après-midi d'un faune. It was Carolina's idea, but she asked my opinion and I told her, go ahead. We talked about it, that we can win not by beauty, elegance or something like that, but only by deeper phylosophical interpretation of the music and skating. No other curretly competing skater can compare to Kostner in that. Everything else is pure technique. We changed the step sequences to better comply with the rules. Carolina is a perfectionist, and sometimes she can get carried away. For example, when we wroked on the jumps and got back the Lutz, she suggested a difficult exit of the jump, she became obsessed with it. I told her that even the most difficult exit of the jump does not make the program, but falling on a jump can ruin it. She took three days to think it over, and the said: "Perhaps, you are right"
And I was thinking, if she lands triple Lutz, two flips, one or two loops and a Salchow, it would be almost the same program as the leaders. We do two jumps in the first half, everything else is in the second. If everything comes together, Carolina can look better on the ice than the rest."
Q about the nervousness before the Olympics.
AM: we just need to work. An athlete can ahve adrenaline rush, not a coach. If you get carried away by emotions, you can make wrong steps. A coach has to calculate the risks , even in the most practical way. Not go to the extremes with the choice of programs or workload.
Kostner finished second at her two Grand prix events, made the Grand Prix Final, unlike the previous season, finished fourth in the Final, just two points behind the silver medal winner Maria Sotskova.
Italian Federation started preparing documents for Mishin to attend the Olympic Games. But suddenly, at the European championships, the Italian was accompanied by her former coach Michael Huth.
On the surface, everything looked quite proper. The skater explained her return to Oberstdorf by having more comfortable training environment.
"I needed to spend more time with my family, therefore I accepted the offer to train with Michael" — Kostner said in Moscow, adding that Mishin is still a part of her team, although he is not coming with her to the Olympic Games.
Mishin said that there was nothing news-worthy in Kostner's decision: her home, family, familiar environment and everything else is in Oberstdorf. However, he was hurt. After the short program, where Kostner finished third with 78.30 points, six points more than last year and only 0.27 points behind two-time World champion Evgenia Medvedeva, I called Mishin to Saint Petersburg:
AM: It wasn't easy for Carolina to train in Russia. She lived in a hotel and cooked her own food. When she first came to me, when she was down, she was willing to put up with anything. Now we built up everything: her technique, her jumps, her confidence. Carolina is back among the top skaters, everybody admits it. Maybe she thinks now she does not need me anymore. Or maybe she went along with the wishes of the Italian federation. But I am not offended. After all, two years of working with Kostner under my system is the best indicator that my system works.
Something similar happened when Carolina broke up with Huth in 2009 and went to America to train with Frank Carroll. She finished 16th at the Olympics in Vancouver and came back home, she said: "Only in America I realized how deeply our traditions and custtoms are rooted in me and how much I miss home. I missed winter, snow, Christmas street decorations and European Christmas. I always wanted to be back home, in Bolzano, where people know me not as a skater but Patricia and Erwin's daughter."
There is hardly any sense pointing out ingratitude in this case: in the West, the coach-pupil relationship was always looked on in a different way than in Russia, less emotional. Besides, Kostner's decision to return to Oberstdorf could be influenced by the Italian skating federation. Mishin suggested that Lori Nicol also could play a certain role: Kostner was always very close to her, and after she went to work with Nichol on choreography in the middle of the season, her jumps fell apart — the work had to be started again almost from scratch. Mishin was so upset about it that he even called Nichol. Maybe this rift between two people important to her could in some way influence Kostner. Mishin also suggested that Carolina could feel uncomfortable putting him in a position where he would be coaching a competitor to Russian skaters at the Olympics.

Although, personally I think that Mishin unwittingly told me the real reason last summer in Courchevel: Russian sport is in a strange position — it is discriminated against everywhere. Surely it has been discussed in Italy: is it acceptable that the best skater is coached by the representative of a banned country? Especially since it will most likely bring an attention to Kostner's own doping past. It could definitely lead to a conclusion that Mishin was not needed anymore. Esepcially since he already did his job.

But damn it, it was such a great job!

Tinami Amori

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Respect to Elena Vaitsekhovskaya for writing it! i don't (rather rarely) agree with her, but this is spot on! Mishin however, is very diplomatic on the subjects when asked by the press.


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I hope Mishin gets credit for his work!

I think the Italian Olympic Committee and Skating Federation are making demands of Kostner as gatekeepers to the Olympics.

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